Provincial New Democrats have launched a petition drive to force the Liberal government to put the Ontario Legislature back to work.
Taras Natyshak, MPP for Essex, kicked of f the NDP campaign locally at a news conference outside Liberal Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s Lauzon Parkway constituency office Tuesday, stating that outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty’s sudden decision Oct. 15, to resign and prorogue the legislature indefinitely was a partisan ploy to cover up scandals.
“Obviously the decision to prorogue was meant to give the government time and cover,” said Natyshak. “It’s a total affront to democracy . . . This is of no benefit to the province and is not in the interests of this region which has the highest unemployment rate in the country … There’s no need to close parliament, lock the doors and turn the lights out. They can’t do that.”
He noted the government was only elected barely a year ago and Ontario voters sent 107 MPPs to do a job for them. Proroguing government brings that work, he said, to a grinding halt. He said that included the investigation into the controversial cancellation of the Mississauga and Oakville gas plants, which threatened to grow into a major political scandal for the government.
“The Liberals decided they were more interested in their party’s problems than the issues facing the province,” he said. “When they closed the doors of Queen’s Park a lot of important work ceased … It’s obvious that the scandal was spiraling out of control and kicking us out of Queen’s Park was the easiest way to stop it.”
But, along with that debate, he said, all current bills, private members bills and motions now before the legislature – including a review of Local Health Integration Networks, committee work and special panels -such as review of the Horse racing industry in Ontario, are all in limbo. Even if the Liberals hold a leadership convention at the end of January, he predicted, the legislative backlog won’t begin moving again until March.
Natyshak said that meetings he has had with constituents show that citizens are “truly concerned and disheartened by what’s happening.” He added that hundreds had already signed the petition to resume sitting. “Decisions have to be made and people can’t wait for a Liberal coronation.” Despite holding his news conference at Duncan’s doorstep, the Minister of Finance was not there and available for comment, his staff reported.
The “MPPs Back to Work” campaign urges Ontarians to apply pressure on the government to recall the legislature, inviting them to canvass their MPPs, signing the petition or joining the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and at websites created to deal with the campaign. They include MPPsBackToWork.ca or at facebook.com/MPPsBackToWork.
In a letter to Conservative leader of the opposition, Tim Hudak, Liberal Government House Leader John Milloy places the part of the blame at the opposition’s doorstep.
“The Ontario legislature stayed in session for an extra two weeks in the spring to pass the budget bill and returned two weeks early in the fall to pass the Putting Students First Act,” he wrote. “Despite those many days of legislative debate, only half of all government bills were passed because, among other things, your members allowed the bells to ring and delayed important legislation.
Stepping away from the legislature will provide an opportunity to try and develop an agenda to bring everyone together so we can move forward in a positive and constructive manner.”
Lydia Miljan, political science professor from the University of Windsor, said proroguing the legislature means that all of the bills currently before the house will have to be re-introduced and “everything must start over from scratch.” However, she added, the petition is likely to have little to no effect on the government.
“They’ve asked the Lieutenant Governor to do it and it will be done until a new leader is named,” she said. “And the Liberals are not likely to bite.”
She said the move will essentially bury the political impact of the controversies hounding the government until a future election is called. Whether the opposing parties can make it an issue to excite voters in the coming political showdown, she said, remains unclear.
She added the McGuinty decision leaves the province in political disarray, with fiscal, social issues and labor unrest unsettled. “I think a lot of people will be frustrated on different levels.”
Political scientist Lloyd Brown-John said there is even some irony to the decision. McGuinty, he observed, said one of his reasons for proroguing the legislature was to get all the parties together to find ways of dealing with public sector austerity measures and civil service wage freezes. Now those same civil servants will be left to run the province for several months.
He said McGuinty’s strategy differs little from a child stealing cookies from the cookie jar and then running and hiding to keep from being found out. He called it an act of political “cowardice.”
Ultimately, he predicted, the Liberals will pay at the polls. He suggested the future leader, whoever that may be is likely to be punished at the polls and the party may be banished to the “political wilderness” for six to eight years.
“If you’re politically ambitious, now is not the time to be taking over the leadership of the provincial Liberals.
But his faculty colleague, political scientist Cheryl Collier, wasn’t so sure. She said the Liberals are taking a calculated risk that they can duck the coming controversy, elect a new leader and fight the next election without having had to deal with the media analysis their record or the fallout from closing out debate.
“It’s a gamble to avoid the controversy and hope voters are not upset by the proroguing,” she said, adding that Prime Minister Steven Harper prorogued parliament in 2008 to keep his minority government afloat and the issue became no more than a “blip” on the road to their reelection in 2011.
Nevertheless, she said that use of the tactic is becoming “disturbing” and a “worrying trend” for people concerned about the future of parliamentary democracy. She added the NDP strategy of circulating petitions is probably a shrewd move to keep the issue before the public.